A few weeks ago I heard about the new TransMentors Program from Kate Bornstein (yes, I'm name dropping! I follow hir on Twitter so it's almost like we're friends). To my mind, this sounds like an awesome idea...although likewise the background checks and formality of it also make me nervous. I'm not one for too much interference into my life.
TransMentors mission is:
to provides aid, support and assistance to Trans-identified individuals...We dedicate ourselves to providing an array of information services, educational materials, advocacy training, as well as assistance with housing, health, faith, and employment needs. We pledge compassionate support and passionate advocacy on behalf of Trans-identified persons in their journeys toward health of body and mind and in their pursuit of personal freedom, including the freedom to alter their bodies and change their gender roles.
All of which sounds awesome to me - specifically because they focus on mentoring! Mentoring is a huge issue for me as my experience in doing Transgender Support/Discussion Groups is that participants come for three reasons. One reason is that often the groups are the only place that an individual feels safe to discuss their real concerns - hardships, joys, moments of desperation and depression...feelings in general. And the group provides a safe space to say things like "I don't know if I can do this" without anyone standing in judgement that the phrase might take away their right to be transgender. If you were to tell a therapist the same thing they might decide you aren't "serious" as opposed to the idea that you might have had a rough couple of days. The second reason that I usually see is that transgender people often feel extraordinarily alone. The groups offer a sense of community. Even in smaller five-people groups there is still such intense diversity that you can easily see the many ways to be transgender.
Finally, the third reason people tell me they attend is to find examples of the kind of person you want to be. In other words, finding mentors. Usually I see that within a group meeting a newer individual latches on to what one person says and they quickly form a strong bond. Sometimes this happens because the two are on their way to a strong friendship based on equal interests, at other times this connection is based on one person's ability to guide the other in finding resources and ways of being. Once again...a mentor. I once had a very brief discussion with a transgender leader about why she continues to attend Transgender Discussion/Support Groups. Namely, that her happy and successful transition can assist others to see that being transgender isn't necessarily synonymous with depression, violence, or loneliness. That it is possible to be happy and be transgender identified.
For all these reasons, I think the TransMentors program is excellent! Too many transpeople rely on the advice of cisgender specialists to guide them - therapists, doctors, psychiatrists all operating from various different interpretations of a transphobic text. Assisting each other to transition keeps our communities more united - and ensures at least the majority of advice is correct.